This glossary provides brief definitions for pension terms that are used in the Financial Services Commission of Ontario's online pension guide entitled A Guide to Understanding Your Pension Plan.

For more information on pensions, refer to our list of additional resources.

Pension Terms

50 per cent rule excess contributions – if a plan member's contributions to a defined benefit plan and any earned interest or investment income equal more than 50 per cent of the commuted value of the pension benefit, this difference or "excess" is refunded to the member. (Note: this only applies for contributions that were made after December 31, 1986 — but may apply prior to that date if the plan provides for it.)

accrued (also known as accrued benefits, earned benefits or earned pension) – the amount of accumulated pension benefits that are credited to a plan member based on his or her length of service, earnings, etc., up to a given date.

active member (or active pension plan member) – see the definition for member below.

actuary – a professional responsible for, among other things, performing valuations of the assets and liabilities of pension plans and calculating the costs of providing pension benefits. In Canada, a person must be a member of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries (CIA) to be recognized as a professional actuary.

additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) – a pension fund contribution that is made by a pension plan member, and that is in excess of any amount that the member is required to contribute.

administrator – see the definition for pension plan administrator below.

ancillary benefits – additional benefits which may be provided by a pension plan. This may include: disability benefits, bridging benefits, supplementary benefits, certain death benefits, and certain early retirement benefits.

annuity – see the definition for life annuity below.

asset – in relation to pension plans, this is anything of monetary value that is owned by the pension plan. This includes: cash, investments, property, etc.

bank deposit rate – the interest rate that a Canadian bank will pay to a client that has money in a five year personal fixed-term bank account. (This rate is calculated based on the average yields on five year personal fixed-term deposits, as determined from the Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System (CANSIM) series V122515.)

beneficiary (or plan beneficiary) – a person who is receiving, or is entitled to receive, a benefit under a pension plan.

bridging benefit – a temporary benefit provided to individuals who retire before they are entitled to receive Canada Pension Plan (CPP)Old Age Security Program (OAS) or Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) retirement benefits.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) – a federal pension plan that provides monthly payments to retirees who worked in Canada and made CPP contributions during their employment. To receive CPP payments, a person needs to apply for and qualify for it. To learn more, visit Service Canada's web page on the CPP.

class of employee – categories of employees based on employment circumstances such as: salaried employees, hourly-paid employees, employees who are members of a trade union, supervisory employees, and management employees.

commuted value – the amount of a lump sum payment that is payable today (or as of a fixed date) and that is estimated to be equal in value to a future series of pension payments, based on actuarial assumptions.

continuous employment (also known as continuous membership or continuous service) – the period during which an employee is continuously employed by the same employer, or continuously participates in that employer's pension plan. This includes periods of temporary absence or suspension, or periods of layoff. This may also include service with an associated or former employer, depending on the terms of the pension plan.

contributory plan – a pension plan that requires members to make contributions in addition to any employer required contributions. Contributions are normally made by payroll deduction.

credited service – the length of service used in a pension plan formula to calculate a defined benefit. The credited service for a member might be different than the member's continuous service or employment.

date of termination – the date a plan member's employment or plan membership ends (or, in the case of a wind up, this is the effective date of the plan wind up).

death benefit – a pension benefit or lump sum payment that is received after the death of a plan member by his or her spouse or beneficiary.

deferred pension – a pension that is determined when a member's employment or plan membership ends, but which is not payable until some later date. This payment usually occurs at the member's normal or early retirement age.

deferred profit sharing plan (DPSP) – an arrangement under which an employer may share profits from its business to provide pensions for all employees, or just a designated group of employees. Deductions under the federal Income Tax Act are provided in respect of employer contributions (employee contributions are not permitted) and tax is deferred on income in the DPSP until benefits are received.

defined benefit (DB) plan – a pension plan that defines the ultimate pension benefit to be provided in accordance with a formula, usually based on years of service, earnings, on a flat rate, etc. A DB plan may be a contributory or non-contributory plan.

defined contribution (DC) plan (or money purchase plan) – a pension plan that defines the amount of contributions (including required member contributions, if any) to the pension plan. The member's pension benefits are based on contributions from the member and employer, plus investment income on these contributions. At retirement, the amount of pension that can be bought is based on the accumulated contributions and investment return in the member's account. A DC plan may be a contributory or non-contributory plan.

early retirement window – a time-limited opportunity for eligible plan members to retire early and receive a subsidized early retirement pension that they would not normally be entitled to.

former member (or former pension plan member) –an individual (other than a retired member) whose employment or plan membership has ended, and who is entitled to receive a deferred pension or any other payment from the pension fund.

Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) – a regulatory agency of Ontario's Ministry of Finance that regulates insurance, pension plans, loan and trust companies, credit unions, caisses populaires, mortgage brokering, and co-operative corporations in Ontario.

Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) – an Ontario program that ensures a guaranteed minimum income for low-income seniors. It provides monthly payments to qualifying retirees who are already receiving the Old Age Security (OAS) pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments. To learn more, visit the Ontario Ministry of Finance's web page on the GAINS program.

Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) – a federal program that provides additional money to low-income seniors who qualify and apply for it. To be eligible for the GIS benefit, a person must live in Canada, meet certain income requirements and be currently receiving the Old Age Security pension. To learn more, visit Service Canada's web page on the GIS benefit.

grow-in rights – if a pension plan provides enhanced early retirement benefits — for example, an unreduced early retirement pension — plan members may be entitled to "grow-in" to these enhanced benefits even though they do not meet the age or service requirements as of the plan's wind up date. To qualify for grow-in, a plan member's age plus years of continuous employment or plan membership must equal at least 55 on his or her date of termination, or on the effective date of the plan wind up. (For more information, see Grow-in Rights for Older or Long-Service Workers.)

guaranteed life annuity – a life annuity that will be paid for the lifetime of a person, or for a certain period (whichever is longer), but in any event for a minimum period (e.g., if a person who owns an annuity with a 10-year guarantee dies after eight years, payments will continue to be made to a beneficiary or the estate for two years).

indexation – in relation to pensions, this is the amount that the monthly pension payment may be increased from one year to the next to provide inflation protection. If indexation is provided, it is often based on the increase in the cost of living as calculated by Statistics Canada. This is sometimes referred to as an escalated adjustment.

joint and survivor pension or annuity – a pension or life annuity that is payable until the death of the retired plan member, and then to the surviving spouse until his or her death. This is the default option when a member with a spouse retires. Payments to the survivor are often reduced to 60 per cent after the member's death.

jointly sponsored pension plan (JSPP) – a JSPP is a special type of pension plan in which decision making and funding of the benefits is shared jointly by both employees and their employer(s). A JSPP provides defined benefits to plan members and contributions are always made by both plan members and their employers. (This is known as a contributory plan.)

life annuity (or annuity) – in the pension context, periodic payments (usually monthly) are provided by the terms of an insurance contract that will be paid for the lifetime of a person (the annuitant), or the person and his or her designated beneficiary. Annuities are normally purchased from insurance companies.

Life Income Fund (LIF) – a particular form of Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) offered by financial institutions. A LIF may be purchased with money transferred out of a pension plan when a member's employment ends. A LIF is used to provide a regular retirement income and is subject to minimum and maximum annual income payment limits. LIFs are governed by Ontario's Pension Benefits Act and the federal Income Tax Act.

Locked-in Retirement Account (LIRA) – a particular form of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) offered by financial institutions. A LIRA is used to hold money that is transferred out of a pension plan when a member's employment ends. LIRAs are governed by Ontario's Pension Benefits Act and the federal Income Tax Act.

Locked-in Retirement Income Funds (LRIFs) – a particular form of a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) formerly offered by financial institutions (until December 31, 2008). A LRIF is used to hold money that was transferred out of a pension plan when a member's employment ended. LRIFs are governed by Ontario's Pension Benefits Act and the federal Income Tax Act. The rules governing LRIFs have been harmonized with the rules governing LIFs.

locking in (or locked-in) – a legislative requirement that your pension benefits be used only for the purpose of providing a lifetime retirement income. This requirement also applies to Life Income Funds and Locked-in Retirement Accounts.

member (also known as pension plan member or active member) – refers to an employee who has enrolled in a pension plan and is accruing benefits for current service (employment).

multi-jurisdictional pension plan (MJPP) – a pension plan that provides pension benefits for activeformer or retired plan members in two or more Canadian jurisdictions in accordance with the applicable governmental agreements.

multi-employer pension plan (MEPP) – a pension plan in which two or more unrelated employers participate and contribute to the same pension plan. Often, MEPPs are sponsored by the union that represents the employees of unrelated employers in a specific industry. It can be a defined benefit plan or defined contribution plan — or a combination of both types of plans.

non-contributory plan – a pension plan in which all required contributions are made by the employer.

normal retirement age or date – the age or date (which cannot be later than 66) at which a member is normally entitled to an unreduced pension under the terms of the pension plan.

Old Age Security (OAS) pension – a federal pension plan that provides monthly payments to most Canadians that are 65 years of age or older. To receive the OAS pension, an individual must qualify and apply for it. To be eligible for the OAS pension, a person must meet the Canadian legal status and residence requirements. To learn more, visit Service Canada's web page on the OAS pension.

pension – the monthly, annual or other periodic amounts that start being paid to a member at retirement and that continue for the rest of his or her life. When the member dies, these payments would be made to any other person who may be entitled to receive them.

pension benefit – the total monthly, annual or other periodic amounts that start being paid to a member or former member at retirement and that continue for the rest of his or her life. When the member or former member dies, these payments would be made to any other person who may be entitled to receive them.

Pension Benefits Act (PBA)– the Ontario legislation that establishes minimum standards for registered pension plans in Ontario.

Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund (PBGF) – a special fund that was established by the Government of Ontario (under the Pension Benefits Act) to cover pension benefits up to a specific amount, for certain defined benefit pension plans when they are wound up and there is a funding shortage. To learn more, refer to FSRA's web page on the Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund.

pension fund – the fund that holds contributions, accumulates investment income and from which pension benefits are paid to members.

pension fund holder – the financial institutions or other third parties that are retained by the pension plan administrator to hold the assets of the pension fund.

pension fund rate of return – the rate of return that can be attributed to the operation of the pension fund (or the part of the pension fund to which a contribution is made) for a reasonable period of time, which cannot exceed 12 months.

pension plan administrator (also known as administrator or plan administrator) – the person, group, body or entity responsible for managing the pension plan and the plan's pension fund. In most cases, one of the employers is the plan administrator, but the plan administrator can also be a board of trustees, a pension committee, an insurance company or some other body established by law, or in certain circumstances, a person appointed by the Superintendent of Financial Services. The administrator may hire third parties to aid in administration, but is responsible for monitoring their activities.

plan beneficiary – see the definition for beneficiary above.

plan sponsor – the individual, entity or entities that are responsible for designing the pension plan, setting the benefit structure, and for establishing, amending and/or ending the pension plan. The plan sponsor is often the employer, but other parties may take on this role (e.g., the corporate parent or a union).

registered pension plan – a plan that is organized and administered to provide pensions for employees, and to which an employer is required to make contributions, that is registered with FSCO in accordance with the Pension Benefits Act. It does not include government programs such as the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), the Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) or the Old Age Security (OAS) Program. Every employer who establishes a pension plan that is subject to Ontario's Pension Benefits Act must register the pension plan with FSRA.

Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) – a personal retirement income fund offered by financial institutions and governed by the federal Income Tax Act. A RRIF is used to provide an ongoing minimum flow of income and is subject to minimum annual income payment requirements. In Ontario, money cannot usually be transferred from a registered pension plan to a regular unlocked RRIF, but can be transferred to a Life Income Fund (LIF) in some circumstances.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) – a personal retirement savings plan offered by financial institutions and governed by the federal Income Tax Act. In Ontario, money cannot usually be transferred from a registered pension plan to a regular unlocked RRSP, but can be transferred to a Locked-in Retirement Account (LIRA) in some instances.

registered vehicle – a personal tax deferral plan, such as a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), that is registered under the Income Tax Act (ITA) and that allows both contributions and interest to accumulate without tax, until money is withdrawn at a later date.

retired member (or retired pension plan member) – an individual whose employment or membership in a pension plan has ended and who meets one of the following criteria:

  • the individual is currently receiving a pension from the pension fund;
  • the individual has reached his or her normal retirement date and is entitled to start getting a pension, but has not yet chosen to receive the pension;
  • the individual has chosen to begin receiving an early retirement pension; or
  • the individual has chosen under the terms of the plan, to start receiving a pension from the plan.

rule of 55 – to qualify for grow-in, the combination of your age plus years of continuous employment or plan membership must equal at least 55 as of the plan's wind up date.

single employer pension plan (SEPP) – a pension plan sponsored by a single employer or a group of related employers within a corporate group.

single life pension – a pension payable until the death of the retired plan member. It provides the largest monthly pension, but offers no continuing income to the retired plan member's spouse, if he or she outlives the retired plan member.

small pension rule – the commuted value of a pension may be taken as a taxable lump sum, or it may be transferred (entirely or partially) to a registered vehicle on a tax-deferred basis, if:

spouse – except where otherwise indicated in the Pension Benefits Act, either of two persons who,

  1. are married to each other, or
  2. are not married to each other and are living together in a conjugal relationship,.
    1. continuously for a period of not less than three years, or
    2. in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the parents of a child as set out in section 4 of the Children’s Law Reform Act (“conjoint”).

Statement of Investment Policies and Procedures (SIPP) – a document required by pension legislation that sets out the investment policies and procedures for a pension plan.

Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) –a personal savings account that allows contributions up to the current personal annual limit (as determined by the government) per person, to be made from after-tax dollars and that allows investment earnings to accumulate tax-free. A TFSA also allows tax-free withdrawals.

transfer ratio – a ratio (solvency assets divided by solvency liabilities) that indicates the degree to which a pension plan has sufficient assets to provide pension benefits. A ratio of less than one indicates that a plan is not fully funded.

vested benefits (or vesting) – accrued pension benefits that a pension plan memberformer member, or retired member is entitled to receive unconditionally under a pension plan, even if they are not payable until a future date.

wind up (or partial wind up)– the termination or discontinuation of all (full wind up) or part (partial wind up) of a pension plan, usually at the decision of the employer. This often results from bankruptcy, corporate restructuring, or downsizing. (For more information, see Termination or Wind Up of a Pension Plan.)

Year's Maximum Pensionable Earnings (YMPE) – a term used in the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) that refers to the earnings on which CPP and Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) contributions and benefits are calculated. The YMPE is re-calculated each year according to a formula based on average wage levels. The YMPE is published annually by the Bank of Canada.